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Election Special: Coca-Cola Referendum

Alongside this year’s elections, students will be asked to vote on a referendum regarding the SU’s current position boycotting the sale of Coca-Cola products in SU shops and in the two campus bars.

The formal wording of the proposal will be as follows: “Do you wish the Students’ Union to lift its existing boycott of Coca-Cola products, thus allowing the Students’ Union to sell Coca-Cola products in its shops and be in a position to accept sponsorship from the Coca-Cola company?”

A majority of Yes votes will mean that the Union will abandon its ban on Coke products, which include Fanta, Sprite, Lilt and Riverrock water. For the referendum’s result to be declared valid, at least ten per cent of the Union’s membership – about 1,900 people – must vote in the ballot.

A majority of No votes will therefore mean that the boycott will continue, and no SU outlets on campus will sell Coca-Cola for the foreseeable future.

The referendum has been called by Union Council after it passed a motion to hold the ballot at a meeting last month. The motion was comprehensively passed, by 47 votes to 6, in acknowledgement of the fact that the overwhelming majority of current students were not members of the SU when the policy was first introduced.

Because the referendum was called by SU Council and not by the usual method of student petition, any interested parties are entitled to come forward as the official ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ agents and to use Union resources to produce printed materials. No formal ‘Yes’ agent had come forward as The University Observer went to print; SU class rep Aideen Carberry has declared herself as the official ‘No’ agent in the referendum, and will be campaigning to uphold the ban.

The current SU policy originates from 2003 when two divisive referenda were held asking students to adopt the boycott, in protest at Coca-Cola’s alleged involvement in the  murders of nine of its unionised workers at a Colombian bottling plant. The controversial claims have never been proven – a court in Miami dismissed a case brought against Coca-Cola in respect of the murders – but proponents of the ban insist that Coca-Cola played an organised part in the killings.

An SU committee was formed earlier this year tasked with investigating the allegations made against both Coca-Cola and Nestlé, whose products are also boycotted by UCDSU, and to recommend whether the boycotts should remain in place. The group’s findings have yet to be published, however.

UCD Students’ Union were the first institution in the world to introduce a boycott on Coke products; students’ unions in Trinity College and across the UK have since introduced similar policies.

The most recent referendum on a Coca-Cola boycott in Ireland took place in 2007, when a resounding 63 per cent majority of students in Trinity voted to uphold their ban.